Think about all the free  AUG 30 2000

Think about all the free (or absurdly cheap) stuff you can get these days, compared to just a few years ago. Internet access. Long distance. Computers. Books. Clothing. Cable television. Why is it so cheap? Well, we're still paying for those things in the form of drastically reduced levels of customer service.

I've heard dozens of stories in the past couple months about horrible customer service, including:

- crappy DSL installs. PacBell, USWest, Qwest, Bell Atlantic, I'm talking about you here.

- not being able to talk to a real person when you need to.

- the real-life bookstore and the online bookstore not knowing how to deal with each other. Hello, Barnes & Noble.

- cable companies. The more things change....

- not being able to find basic contact information on a company's Web site.

- and the defending champion of horrible customer service....do I even have to tell you that it's Network Solutions?

Companies are lowering prices so they can get big and rich in a hurry, but their customers - the people they are supposed to be treating with courtesy and respect - are paying the price for it by being ignored, talked down to, ripped off, and generally taken advantage of.

The really disturbing thing is that these companies are pretty much getting away with it. They are offering subpar service and profiting from it. Somehow, this has to catch up with them....or is this just part and parcel of the "new economy"?

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